HC Deb 25 January 1971 vol 810 cc25-6
13. Mr. Wall

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the proceedings and agreements reached at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference.

25. Mr. Murton

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he had with other Commonwealth Ministers during the course of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I would ask hon. Members to await the statement which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be making on the Conference tomorrow.

Mr. Wall

Is not the Commonwealth still of value to itself, to the world and to this country? What steps are being taken to make it less formal and more confidential?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The Secretary-General of the Commonwealth was asked at the Conference in Singapore to study this matter of the procedure of the Commonwealth in future.

Mr. Murton

Would my right hon. Friend, nevertheless, not agree that the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference remains a unique opportunity for a frank exchange of ideas and opinions, and that it would be most inadvisable for any member to decide, at this or any other stage, to leave it because of any possible difference of opinion?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Yes, Sir, that is true. Of course, there are all sorts of contacts, apart altogether from the Prime Minister's meetings. The Finance Ministers and the officials, for example, meet at least once a year, so there are many contacts which should be preserved and can be profitable in the Commonwealth context.

Mr. Dalyell

Will the Prime Minister be dealing fully and frankly with the question of Indian Ocean bases such as Diego Garcia?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Frankly, but how fully the hon. Gentleman will have to judge.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts

May we take it that the Prime Minister's statement tomorrow will not only give us full information as to the Conference recently held but will also deal, in as much detail as the rules of order will permit, with the procedures which he proposes for further conferences of this kind?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conferences are, of course, called by a consensus, when the Prime Ministers decide that it is useful for them to meet. There are no laid-down procedures. What happens now is that the Secretary-General collects the views of Prime Ministers, and that procedure will continue. My hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Murton) was talking about rather different procedures, the conduct inside Commonwealth Prime Ministers' meetings in future.